A logging project on a portion of the Stanislaus National Forest burned by last year's Rim Fire could begin in less than two weeks barring any legal challenges from environmental groups unhappy with the U.S. Forest Service plan's potential impacts to California spotted owls.

About 15,300 acres of dead and heavily damaged trees would be removed under the plan approved Thursday by retiring Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski.

Selective logging of hazard trees would also occur on about 17,700 acres of land adjacent to about 325 miles of Forest Service roads.

The Final Record of Decision and Environmental Impact Statement were posted on the Forest Service's website Thursday afternoon. Though the plan is exempt from the Forest Service's standard appeal process because it was created under emergency rules, opponents could still hold up the project in court.

A weeklong bidding period for the first timber sale is scheduled to open on Wednesday. The sale would be awarded to the highest bidder, andlogging could begin immediately after that, according to Forest Service officials.

The fast pace is important for the Forest Service and logging companies looking to benefit from the timber sales because it would provide a couple months this fall to do some of the work, as most of the wood's value is expected to deteriorate after next year.

However, that also gives environmental groups a small window to file a lawsuit against the Forest Service and request a temporary restraining order from the court to delay the project.

"We will likely be litigating over the substantial impacts to California spotted owls," said Justin Augustine, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Ariz. "Based on my analysis, most of (the logging) will still occur in occupied owl territory."

Nearly 50 protected areas for spotted owls existed within the Rim Fire's burn footprint, according to Rob Griffith, director of the Forest Service's Rim Fire Recovery Project.

Four were taken off the list of protected areas because they were destroyed in the blaze. Those that remain are not part of the logging plan.

"None of those will be salvaged," Griffith said of the remaining protected areas for spotted owls.

For the complete story, see the Aug. 29, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.